Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Recipe Pairing - Eleanor's (Dough) Nuts for The Haunting

"No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that." - Mrs. Sanderson from The Haunting, 1963.

Happy Halloween, y'all! Today's post is inspired by the 1963 version of The Haunting, and comes from The Noble Pig, a gorgeous food blog you can find in my list of favorite blogs. I changed the flavor of doughnuts from banana to pumpkin for Halloween and nick named them 'Eleanor's 'Nuts' for the character Eleanor in the film. As you can guess, the woman is a few cards shy of a full deck, and the genius of the film is watching her lose what's left of her sanity, scene by scene, inside of a reportedly haunted house. Again I'm talking about the original - the remake was a pile of horse poo.

Switching topics, when I was growing up in Houston, we had a neighbor who made homemade doughnuts for the neighborhood kids every Halloween. As you can imagine, they had a steady line outside of their house from the time the kids got out of school until 10 p.m. And in my memory, you could smell those fried beauties for blocks and blocks - the scent of cinnamon and vanilla tossed up like confetti into the crisp, fall air.

Don't get me wrong - I adore Halloween, even children on Halloween, but I don't think there's enough wine in the whole world to keep me standing over a deep fryer for 8 hours straight. God bless those old neighbors!

Did you have any neighbors when you were growing up who made anything special for trick or treaters?

By the by - this is my 13th post for October...spooky :O

Eleanor's (Dough)Nuts!
(Really baked pumpkin doughnuts from The Noble Pig), Adapted from Bake Sale Recipes.

8 oz pumpkin puree
2 egg whites
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts

Beat pumpkin, egg whites, oil and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add flours, baking powder, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice. Mix until well blended. Let stand for five minutes for dough to rise. Scoop out heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto a greased baking sheet.

With the tip of a butter knife round out the doughnut holes in the center of the dough. Then use the butter knife to smooth outside edges of dough into round doughnut shape. Repeat until all dough is used.

Sprinkle with granulated sugar and walnuts. Bake 6 to 10 minutes (mine took 8) in a 425 degree oven or until tops are golden.

Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool.

* Noble Pig says - I decided to drizzle some icing on them as well. It was the perfect addition. I used a 1/3 cup powdered sugar and 2 Tablespoons of milk.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Rosemary Cream

These are so good I dream about them. Even Kris, who finds sweet potatoes 'stringy', loves them. No time to write more today. Love you though.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Rosemary Cream

3 small or 2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
plenty of sea or kosher salt

Rosemary Cream (mix the following ingredients together and set aside:)
4 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons goat cheese, room temp
small pinch of minced fresh rosemary (about a scant 1/4 teaspoon - not too much or your potato will taste like medicine:(
tiny pinch sea or kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 400. Grease a small, rimmed baking sheet and set aside. Drizzle your sweet potatoes with the olive oil, making sure every bit is covered, then sprinkle them with kosher or sea salt so that they get a good, light coating all over.

Place the potatoes on your prepared baking sheet and bake for 45-55 minutes or until skin is lightly crisped and interior is fork tender. Let cool for 5 minutes before carefully splitting open with a serrated knife and placing a dollop of your rosemary cream inside of each. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary if desired and serve warm.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Recipe Pairing - Seventh Sin Pie and Dragonwyck

In the 1946 classic movie Dragonwyck, Vincent Price plays an eccentric land owner in upstate New York who begins courting his own cousin while still married to his gluttonous wife. (SPOILER ALERT!) In fact, in an effort to speed up the process of this courtship, he feeds his wife a piece of poisoned cake. "More cake, Johanna?..." Twisted yes, but if you like old films and even historic films I recommend this one. I think it's one of Vincent's best (as a side bar - Vincent was quite the gourmand himself having published two cookbooks and hosting his own cooking show...)

The movie directly triggered the invention of this pie. I wanted to make something so over the top and decadent that it could lure even the most sweet resistant person to their downfall. I call it Seventh Sin Pie. And since the topic is already morbid, I'll go ahead and say I'm taking it to the grave as one of my most proud accomplishments along with my pork enchilada recipe and my ability to chew gum imperceptibly during meetings.

The pie begins with a graham cracker crust then has a layer of pumpkin pie filling, then a layer of rich, thick chocolate custard, followed by a layer of vanilla and oreo custard, then a layer of semi sweet chocolate chips, then a layer of fresh sweetened whipped cream and finally (are you still with me?) - a layer of toasted coconut. Obviously, you can leave out any layer that doesn't ring your bell and substitute with something else, or just use the entire recipe for the pumpkin filling (you'll have leftover that you can either make into a smaller trifle or pie. I would have cut the recipe in half but what's the point in saving a half a can of pumpkin?)

Serve this to someone you love...or despise.

Seventh Sin Pie
* You'll need a 10 inch deep dish pie dish for this. I use my Emile Henry which is a brand I highly recommend.
Makes 1 (10 inch) Pie.
* I hereby give you fair warning that this recipe is a time sucker so baker beware. The saving grace is that you can prepare the pie up to the vanilla custard layer then let set in the fridge overnight before finishing. That way all you have left is to sprinkle over the chocolate chips, spread the whipped cream over, and top with toasted coconut...
* The chocolate custard is Nigella's recipe, halved.

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a small bowl, combine the crumbs and sugar; add the butter and blend well with a fork. Spray your pie dish with nonstick spray, then carefully dole out the graham mixture evenly over the bottom. Ideally, using a soup ladle (I find this helps me not pack the crumbs too heavily as with my fingers so you don't end up with a baked graham cracker brick), evenly and gently press the crust into the bottom and up the sides of the plate. You'll think it'll never make it up those sides, but it will, just keep at it patiently but sternly like you would a stubborn child. If any crumbs break off, just carefully pick them up and press them back into the walls of the crust at the top. Once formed, bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the crust is lightly brown. Cool on a wire rack before filling. While the crust bakes, then cools, you can start the first layer of pumpkin on the stovetop, as follows.

Layer 1 - Pumpkin Pie:
* You'll only use half of the prepared recipe for your pumpkin layer - unless you decide to omit one of the other layers.

1 (.25 ounce) package unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

In a heavy saucepan combine gelatin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Stir in condensed milk and beaten eggs, mixing well. Let stand one minute, then place on burner over low heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes, or until gelatin dissolves and mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in pumpkin, mixing thoroughly, and pour mixture into the prepared graham cracker crust. Place in the fridge to chill while you start your chocolate custard (you can cover lightly with a sheet of plastic wrap if desired.)

Layer 2 - Chocolate Custard:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, minimum 70 percent cocoa solids, chopped
2/3 cups plus 1/2 tablespoon milk
2/3 cups plus 1/2 tablespoon heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/6 cup cocoa

Melt the chocolate on low to medium heat in the microwave, checking after 1 minute, though it will probably need a little more. Or you can place it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once the chocolate is melted, set it aside while you start the custard.

In a saucepan warm the milk and cream over low heat, being careful to not let it form a skin (stirring prevents this.) Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cocoa in a large bowl. Pour the warm milk and cream into the bowl in three batches, swiftly whisking it into the yolks and sugar mixture to prevent the eggs from curdling. Stir in the melted chocolate, scraping the sides well with a rubber spatula to get all of it in, and pour the custard back into the rinsed saucepan. Cook over a medium heat until the custard thickens, stirring all the time. Make sure it doesn't boil, as it will split and curdle. Keep a sink full of cold water so that if you get scared you can plunge the bottom of the custard pan into the cold water and whisk like mad, which will avert possible crisis. Once thickened (your spoon should leave a wake in its path), set aside and let cool for 15 minutes (stirring a time or two) before carefully spreading it over the pumpkin layer. Return the pie to the fridge while you start the next pudding layer.

Layer 3/4 - Vanilla Custard with Crushed Oreos:
* Aha! You caught me. I cheated and used a boxed vanilla pudding mix. Of course you can make your own from scratch, but with all the other layers being made from scratch, I gave myself a tiny break here. And to be honest once you stir in the crush oreos, does it really matter? Finally the reason this layer is labeled 3/4 is that originally I kept the pudding and cookies separate, then decided they tasted better combined.

1 box vanilla pudding, such as Jello brand
2 cups whole milk
1 cup crushed Oreo cookies

In a thick bottomed, medium pan, stir the pudding powder into the milk. Bring to medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to boil. At this stage, DO NOT walk away and continue to stir until it thickens - about another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Give a good stir and cool another 5 minutes before stirring in the Oreos. Let cool for 15 minutes before spreading over the chocolate layer. Cover with plastic wrap and return to the fridge to chill for at least 5 hours to let all the layers set before adding the chocolate chips.

Layer 5:
1 cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips, sprinkled evenly over the vanilla and oreo layer after it has set.

Layer 6:
1 cup of chilled heavy cream, whipped with 1 tablespoon sugar until stiff and spreadable, then spread out evenly over the cooled, set pie (or you can use cool whip)

Layer 7:
1 cup toasted sweetened shredded coconut (baked on 325 for 5 minutes), cooled and spread gently and evenly over the whipped cream layer.

Decoration (OPTIONAL): Freshly grated chocolate, sprinkled in any patter over the pie, or evenly over to finish. Plastic spiders to warn friends and family what they're in for!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Halloween Recipe Pairing - Scooby Doo and Scooby Snacks

Scooby Doobie Doo...Where are you...

To this day I adore this show (aside from the Scrappy episodes - not a fan.) And when I have downtime during the fall, I love to put in a dvd of this 70's classic, particularly while I'm whipping up some Halloween recipes. And as far as Scooby snacks - something you can NOT get enough of - I volunteer these Ranch flavored oyster crackers. My old neighbor, Cassie, would make these growing up and I thought they were crack cocaine in edible form, even at the age of 13. Oddly enough, my husband doesn't find them as scrumptious as I do, and suggests they would work better as croutons. While I think this is a novel idea, what the hell is wrong with the man?

Scooby Snacks (Ranch style crackers)

1 (10 oz pkg) oyster crackers
1 (1 oz pkg) Ranch dressing mix (the dry powder form)
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 275. Grease a large, rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray and set aside. Place the dressing mix, dried dill, salt and oil in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the crackers and stir for several minutes (sounds ridiculous, but you'd be amazed at how long it takes those damn cracker to soak up that oil) until there is no longer excess dressing at the bottom of the bowl and the crackers have given into its power. Spread them out on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or just until lightly golden. Cool on the sheet then serve or transfer to an air tight container and store for up to 1 week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Slow Supper Sundays - Nigella's Mughlai Chicken, Lightened Up

Truthfully, you need to make this on Saturday to eat it on Sunday, as the flavors deepen and make friends as it sits in the refrigerator. And if I'm completely honest, I actually think it tastes best after a good two days of time out in the fridge.

Mughlai Chicken is an Indian dish that is unusually mellow for Indian cuisine as well as extremely rich. Traditionally this richness is achieved with heavy cream and full fat yogurt but my thighs don't let me follow this tradition. Nigella also stresses the importance of using dark meat chicken which stays moist over the long cooking process, but I stuck with chicken breasts. Now that I've tried it, I would advise the thighs as she does. They're not that much more fattening and do stay tender, although my husband was happy with the white meat.

I'm not going to lie to you - this one is quite the homework assignment. Not difficult, but with many steps, so only take it on if you're in the mood for some kitchen therapy. Again - I LOVE things I can make ahead and know I've got in the fridge ready to roll. This helps me get off my lazy butt and into the kitchen.

Nigella's Mughlai Chicken, My Way
Serves 8.

1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
4 tablespoons ground almonds (I buy the blanched, splintered kind and pound them in a ziploc)
1/2 cup water
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 small cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boned chicken thighs, each cut into 2 OR 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 " chunks
2 heaping cups chopped onions
1 cup 2 % Greek yogurt
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted, to garnish
cilantro, for garnish

Put the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and chili into a food processor, or into a mortar and pestle, and blend to a paste. Add the ground almonds and water and then blend again, set aside.

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven and add the first batch of chicken pieces (you'll probably need 3 batches so that they pan fry versus stew.) Season with salt and pepper and cook them just long enough to sear on all sides becoming slightly golden, then remove to a holding dish. Repeat with the rest of the chicken and set aside.

Add the spices - the cardamom pods through the cloves - and turn them in the oil in the pan (you may need to add a dash more oil if you were using chicken breasts and the pan has become dry.) Add the onions along with 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt and cook them until softened and lightly browned - about 12 minutes, but keep the heat gentle and stir frequently, to avoid sticking. Pour in the blended paste, stirring well to remove and browned bits from the bottom and cook everything until it begins to color, about 8-10 minutes. Add the yogurt, half a cup at a time stirring it in to make a sauce, then stir in the stock, half and half, and sultanas.

Put the browned chicken back into the pan, along with any juices that have collected under them, and sprinkle over the garam masala, honey, and salt giving a good stir. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for 20 minutes, testing to make sure the meat is cooked through.

It's at this stage, that I like to take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool before reheating the next day or even the day after.

So either now, or when you've reheated it, make rice to serve with it scented with cilantro and sauteed onions (optional) and garnish with additional cilantro and additional slivered almonds. Don't forget when serving to pluck out the bay leaves and cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, if desired.

* To reheat, put in the oven with the lid on for 30 minutes at 350.

Scary Picture Friday - Bacon Wrapped Figs with Manchego Cheese

So easy a Caveman could do it. (As an ad woman, I think I'll go to my grave jealous of not having created this campaign. Oh well...)

Figs are still going strong in the grocery stores, so take advantage and make these. Look for the ones that are soft to the touch and oozing their amber fig juice - disgusting to behold but delicious. My family looked at me like I had officially become a 'New Yorker' (and possibly even a card carrying member of the communist party) when I made these during my Texas trip. But as they baked off in the oven sending the smell of bacon and cheese throughout the house, all was forgiven and they quickly were eaten up.

This reconfirms my belief in what I call the 'hotdog theory'. If you ever saw what went into one before you ever tried it, think of all you'd have missed!

* Apologies for the especially horrendous picture - I took it with my iPhone on vacay. Bad

Bacon Wrapped Figs with Manchego Cheese
Serves 16.

1 (8 slice) package bacon (preferably Applegate Farms 'Sunday' bacon)
8 fresh, ripe figs, stems removed and cut in half length-wise
1 medium block Manchego cheese, cut into 1x1 1/2 inch chunks

Preheat the oven to 400. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet liberally with nonstick spray and set aside.

Remove the bacon slices from the package and cut them directly in half, giving you 16 mini slices. Place a wedge of cheese over the cut side of your fig, then wrap with the bacon slice so that the bacon overlaps on the non cut side (you won't have to put a toothpick through them this way.) Set in your prepared baking sheet, assembling the rest and spacing them evenly apart in the sheet.

Place in the center of the oven for 18-22 minutes, until the bacon looks a bit crisped around the edges and is cooked through. Wait a couple of minutes to cook before serving.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just in Time for the Weekend - Sausage and Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

Before you read this post, if you need a brief escape from the world, go to youtube and search for 'Jimmy Dean Sausage complaint' (I tried to link it here but my site is being hormonal.) I was just in Texas and saw a woman walking her dogs with a braid down to her ankles stop and do 50 push ups against a rock. You don't mess with Texas. Or a Texan's sausage, apparently.

Anyway, I made these sausage-stuffed mushrooms years ago for a party, loved them, and promptly forgot all about them. It wasn't until this past week visiting family in Texas that they resurfaced again in my tiny brain. Actually, I think I 'forgot' about them on purpose because while they were delicious the first go around, they were a pain in the @$$ to make because I used little button mushrooms which made cleaning and filling them as tedious as hula hooping in a body cast. If memory serves, that was also the party where I was so flustered from running late I forgot to eat and ended up running around with my pants down at the end of the night thinking everyone had left. They hadn't.

So do yourself a favor. Do make these little crack-filled nuggets for company or to snack on during football, but only if you can find the baby bellas about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. My sister and I found them in packages of 6 at her grocery store in Texas, but of course I can't find them now that I'm back in NY (that would be too easy.) So when I make them here, I'll go through the trouble of rifling through the free range mushroom bin to find them all this size. Far less traumatizing than ending up with a gallon of sangria in my stomach and my pants around my ankles...

Sausage and Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms
(Serves 12 as an appetizer or hor douvre with a salad)

TIP: I know rinsing mushrooms is a culinary 'no-no' (it's said to make them heavy because they absorb the water.) But nothing is sadder in the entire world for a cook than biting into a wonderfully seasoned mushroom that tastes like potting soil. It gives me chills just thinking about it. So for me, I rinse the little bastards. Not for several minutes, but quickly and under hard running water to knock any clinging dirt or grit off. I then dry them off with a paper towel which gives me a chance to double check them for any garden remains. But if you want to stick with the damp towel method - more power to you.

24 (roughly 2 1/2 inch in diameter) Baby Bella mushrooms, gently and quickly rinsed, patted dry with stems removed so you can fill them
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
pinch fresh cracked black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (16) package ground pork sausage, preferably Jimmy Dean or other trusted brand
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temp
1 (6 oz) tub shredded parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (just a couple shakes)
pinch red pepper flakes, or more to taste
additional 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Preheat your oven to 400.

Heat up a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil (you may need a dash more depending on how large your onion was.) Let the oil heat through for one minute, then add the onions seasoning them with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring every so often until they become translucent, about 12 minutes. Add the minced garlic, give a good stir, and cook another 3-4 minutes until softened.

Transfer the onion and garlic mixture to a large bowl. Add another dash oil to the pan and put back over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking up with your wooden or plastic spoon and cook stirring every couple of minutes until cooked through (usually about 10 minutes but use your eyeballs and consult the package instructions.) While the sausage cooks, add the cream cheese, parmesan, parsley, nutmeg, red pepper flakes and salt to the onion and garlic mixture, stirring in well to incorporate.

Once the sausage has cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to the onion mixture (leaving excess grease behind in the pan to discard) and mix well. Set aside.

Grease two large rimmed baking sheets with non stick spray, then begin filling your mushrooms with the stuffing mixture. Use a small spoon to do so, pressing the filling in gently so that it fills up the entire cavity of the mushroom and put a hefty bit of the filling over the top, but not so much that it's falling over the sides. (You could even put additional parmesan over the tops after you're done filling them, but by this point, I'm over it:)

Place in the oven for 15 minutes, then swap the trays to allow for even cooking and cook another 8-12 minutes, until the tops are just becoming golden brown. Remove allowing to cool a couple of minutes before serving.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Slow Supper Sundays - Mexican Short Rib Tacos with Cilantro and Rosemary

Can I tell you what a comfort it is to have dinner all squared away it's before dinner time? Even as someone who likes to cook - I so often find myself running out of energy at the end of the day, especially on the weekends. I mean is it just me or how many times have you run to the grocery store at the end of the day all fired up to make something fantastic, but by the time you get home and unload bag after bag after bag, you begin to question your sanity at having thought you could attempt such an Olympian feat so late in the day? Making dinner suddenly seems comparable to volunteering for drugless childbirth or racing Lance Armstrong on a beach cruiser.

Well I've done this countless times, resigning my fate to the simplicity of takeout (and to being a complete sloth) after putting those evil little bags of produce and meat safely in the confines of the fridge where their presence can no longer upset me.

Then I discovered my awesomely 70's hand me down crock pot and in turn, the idea of making things early in the day that simmer and bubble away while I get on with my life. I know what you're thinking - what if you prepare something in the morning that you're not in the mood for anymore by the eve? Well, that's the beauty of food potpouri - it does a mean seduction number on your appetite. I could probably eat a hog's head if it bubbled away with the lovely scent of garlic and rosemary all day... The truth is - the salivary glands of a human aren't any smarter than those of a dog.

This is a lovely recipe for short ribs. You could probably up the cumin if you wanted, but I like these to have a medley of mellow Mexican flavors versus punching you in the palette. You'll also notice I commit a horrendous foodie crime in that I snip away the tough, fatty membranes that cling to the ribs after they've separated from the bone. I am no fat free fanatic, believe me, but I find that short ribs are an indulgence enough without adding bits of mystery meat to the equation. It's up to you wether you want to do this or not, but if not, you'll need to add the step of skimming away the pooled grease from the top of the pot before stirring in your final cilantro and rosemary and serving. And to be fair - if you aim to eat at 7:30/8:00 pm - you'll need to start this at 2:30 in the afternoon. I find it a nice recipe to do if I have tinkering to do around the house in the meantime, as it's not one you'd want to lock your doors and leave to its own devices. The thing about short ribs is, you need to stir them once in a while not only to make sure the bottom of the pan isn't burning but also so that every part of the ribs has contact with the cooking liquid. This will ensure tender short ribs versus flavorful but tough ribs.

Here's to filling your house with plenty of saliva inducing scents!

* PS - the best part of making short ribs is waiting for them to fall off the bone so you can pluck those little puppies from the pot. There is NOTHING more satisfying than seeing those little remains floating in the pan, knowing you've conquered the short rib. I'm not a sportsman by any stretch, but I imagine this being as rewarding as crossing the goal line with football in hand. TOUCHDOWN!!!!

Mexican Short Rib Tacos with Cilantro and Rosemary
Serves 6.

1 teaspoon olive oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons diced pancetta (Italian bacon) or regular bacon
4 pounds bone-in short ribs, cut into about 5-inch ribs so that you can pan fry them easily
salt and pepper for ribs
2 heaping cups chopped onions (preferably Vidalia or Spanish)
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
heaping 1/2 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or 1 small cinnamon stick
1 small dried ancho chili
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 3/4 cups dry red wine (preferably rioja, merlot, or zinfandel)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz can) diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
l large handful of cilantro, rinsed (no need to chop just throw them in whole)

1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, or more if desired

12 flour or corn tortillas, wrapped in foil and put in a low oven for 10 minutes to heat through
2 1/2 cups shredded cheese, for tacos (optional)

Heat heavy large pot over medium heat and add oil. Without waiting for the oil to get hot, add the pancetta and sauté until crisp - about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper a large aluminum-lined baking sheet (this will also hold your ribs after you've browned them.)

Speaking of ribs, sprinkle all sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown ribs in drippings (you'll likely need another small slug of oil) in pot over medium-high heat until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. DO NOT overcrowd them or they'll steam versus brown - they shouldn't touch one another in the pan.

Transfer to your baking sheet alongside the pancetta. Add the onions, celery, carrots and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the pan and saute, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, make a small clearing for your seasonings, then add the cumin, cinnamon, and ancho chili to this spot and allow to 'toast' for 1 minute before stirring in to incorporate with the veggies. Cook another 10 minutes, allowing to get nice and cooked down. Add the garlic, stirring in and cook another 5 minutes or until the veggies look pretty defeated.

Carefully pour in the wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half (about 8 minutes.)

Carefully add the broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, stirring in well. Return the pancetta and ribs to pot, immerse in the handful of fresh cilantro stalks, and cover partially, simmering on low/medium heat for 2 hours - stirring halfway through to check the bottom for sticking. Be CAREFUL not to allow to boil - you want a gentle hissing sound from your pot versus a bubbling witches' caldron.

After two hours, you should see that some, if not all of the ribs have separated from the bones. Fish out any bones that have and discard, then test any that haven't by pushing the tips of your cooking tongs against them to see if they'll separate. If they give somewhat easily, help them along to separate and discard. If any are still clinging for dear life - don't force them. They should be more giving in 20 minutes or so when you can try again. Be sure and stir the ribs around so that every side of them has been moistened by the cooking liquid.

After the bones are all removed, you can perform 'surgery' using your tongues and a pair of cooking shears or sharp, clean scissors to remove the fatty/tough muscular membranes clinging to the ribs from where the bones were attached.

At this stage, simmer about 1 1/2 hours longer on low with the lid off, stirring occasionally until rib meat is tender and easily flaked with a fork. Once you've gently separated the meat out with two forks into a quasi shredded meat stew, stir in your final chopped fresh cilantro and rosemary.

Serve in warm flour tortillas with cheese sprinkled over, if desire.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Halloween Recipe Pairing - Butternut Squash Salad with Basil and Pumpkin Seeds for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

What would Halloween be without Charles Schulz's classic animated feature - It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

This little short has been a part of my life since I can remember. I'll never forget the thrill of waiting for it on TV when I was little, constantly hounding my mom about when it would be on until AT LAST - it arrived (thank goodness we had VHS so she could record it and to be fair I'm sure my first few memories of it were pre-recorded on this now defunct form of capturing cellouloid...)

I watched it diligently, all throughout childhood and the arrival of hormones (when I abandoned my first and true love - horses) then even through college and all the way up to right now. In fact - I'll never forget the time my brother came to visit me at UT and we had to wait until it came on before we headed out to the infamous 6th Street to commence with our October debauchery. It was that important, to both of us.

Poor little Linus and his feverish anticipation for the Great Pumpkin signified fall to me. And tradition. - with all its buildups and occasional disappointments.

And even though I have it on DVD now, I'd still rather catch it on TV. It just feels more special. I think the magic of this little film is that it captures the feeling of fall. Fall, unlike the hedonistic abandon of summer whose seduction is obvious (an excuse to wear less and stay awake longer), is finicky. It is far more bewitching with its blustery winds, crimson colored leaves and whispers of apple pies and roasted turkeys. In essence - it's the redhead of seasons. Even if it's not your cup of tea - you still find yourself caught up in its web. And happy for it.

Well, if there's a recipe that captures the feeling of fall - it's my roasted butternut squash, basil, goat cheese, and pumpkin seed salad. Long list of ingredients, maybe, but SO easy you'd be a fool not to try it. That said - I'm a complete hypocrit as I like to purchase the already cut up butternut squash found in the veggie refrigerated section of my grocery store. Yes, it might be a little dried out compared to a freshly hacked up bit of squash, but you can always trim off any dried ends with your handy paring knife. And roasting forgives so many imperfections, much like a tanning bed;)

Few salads have the power to move me in this way - I get a bit emotional over this one and it's embarrassing. Something about the sweetness of the caramelized roasted squash against the sharp tang of the goat cheese and balsamic... It's a flood to the senses. Which is what fall is all about, right?

Butternut Squash Salad with Basil and Pumpkin Seeds

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (or a package of precut butternut squash - about a 1/2 pound)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 1/2 teaspoon
kosher or sea salt for seasoning
3 oz goat cheese, broken up with your fingers
pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried and torn if desired
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
sea salt or kosher salt, optional


Preheat oven to 400 (375 if your oven runs hot.)

Spray a large, rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray and add your cut butternut squash to it (pan should be large enough so that each chunk has its own space to brown.) Drizzle over your 2 teaspoons of olive oil, a good pinch (1/2 teaspoon) of kosher or sea salt, and red pepper flakes (to taste) and mix all around with your hands making sure each piece gets anointed with the oil and seasonings (you might need a touch more oil - use your judgement.) Place in the oven for 20 minutes then remove and carefully flip each piece to the other side with a spatula. Return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until deep and dark on the other side (I even like them a little 'blackened' but you might not so check early and often.)

Remove from the oven and transfer to a large salad bowl. Add in the goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and basil then give a light toss. Drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and oil (and more salt if desired), toss again and serve.

Halloween Recipe Pairing - Spicy Adobo Turkey Burgers with The Curse of the Crying Woman

Curse of the Crying Woman, or La Llorona, is a classic Mexican horror film from 1963. If you like your horror with a bit of camp and oodles of atmosphere - you can't do much better than this. Not that I'm knocking it - believe me. For the genre many consider this film right up there with the likes of Bava. But for non film geeks - all you need to know is that the plot involves witchcraft, an old decaying mansion, and a beautiful heroine whose aunt wants to kill her. In short - all the ingredients of a great Gothic horror film!

These burgers are actually served in tortillas, and can be made even spicier if you like. Just add a little more minced chipotle in adobo, But remember - I warned you...

Spicy Adobo Turkey Burgers
Serves 5.

1 (1.3 lb) package ground turkey, preferably 93% lean versus 97% or 99%
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons minced chipotle chilis, from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce
4 tablespoons minced cilantro plus extra for topping
3 tablespoons minced green onions or chives

5 flour tortillas, wrapped in foil and warmed in a low oven
Shredded cheddar cheese for topping
2 ripe avocados, skin removed and cut into slivers for topping

Place the ground meat in a large bowl, breaking it up a little with your fingers so you can season it more evenly. Sprinkle over the salt and cumin then give a quick mix with your fingers to incorporate (don't go overboard - you don't want to overwork the meat.) Sprinkle over the minced chipotle, cilantro and green onions distributing evenly over the meat, then fold the ingredients in with your fingers just until evenly distributed.

Form into 5 patties and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the burgers, distributing evenly in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes before flipping. Cook another 4-5 minutes, then lower the heat to low to let cook all the way through for about another 3 minutes.

Serve the burgers in the warm tortillas, sprinkling with cheese and topping with the cool avocado slices and fresh cilantro, if desired.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cheater's Peanut Butter Sopapillas

Sopapillas are traditionally fried quick breads, doused in honey and cinnamon. Growing up in Texas, I ate them in Mexican restaurants for dessert. Though to be fair, according to Wikipedia, they're also served both savory and sweet in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina.

These are called 'cheater's' because they have nothing to do with actual sopapillas besides their cinnamon and honey finish. That said, even despite the addition of peanut butter and the lack of being deep fried, the little memories in my taste buds seem to yell 'Sopapillas! I remember these!' every single time I eat them, hence the name.

We eat these for breakfast on the weekends. You can use either regular English muffins or cinnamon raisin. I also like them with whole wheat.

Cheater's Peanut Butter Sopapillas
Serves 2 but easily adjustable.

There's no need for a proper recipe here - you can just eyeball the amount of peanut butter you like spread on each (you could even sub regular butter if you're not a fan of pb), then drizzle the honey and sprinkle the cinnamon accordingly...but the measurements are roughly:

2 Cinnamon Raisin English muffins, split and toasted in a toaster oven
3 tablespoons peanut butter, divided
2 tablespoons honey, divided
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

Spread the desired amount of peanut butter over each English muffin half, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy October Everyone!

I wanted to let you know that in addition to the Slow Sunday Suppers that I'll be posting each Sunday in October, I'll also be featuring several Halloween themed recipes throughout the month along with a movie that inspired the recipe.

So get ready for some spooky October recipe ideas...if you dare!